Does Walking Backwards Have Any Exercise Benefits?

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Question: Does walking backwards have exercise benefits?

I've seen claims that walking backward gives you ten times the benefit of walking forward. Is that true?

Answer: A few small studies have shown that walking backwards increases the heart rate when compared to walking forward at the same speed.

Backwards Walking Increases Heart Rate

A peer-reviewed study from 2004 concluded that walking backwards increased the heart rate by 17% to 20%.

This would suggest that walking backward is a good interval training tactic to add bursts of higher intensity to a walking workout. But claims that it is 10 times better than forward walking are probably an exaggeration.

More Benefits of Backwards Walking

Walking backward is touted as having many benefits in an opinion paper by Barry T. Bates, B.S.E., Ph.D. and Janet S. Dufek, Ph.D., FACSM. They studied backward walking and running in their laboratory at the University of Oregon. They concluded that it improved cardiovascular function, improved muscle balance, and facilitated neuro-muscular function and balance and proprioception. This paper doesn't appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Cautions for Backwards Walking

Care must be taken when adding backward walking to your walking program. You need to ensure safety by practicing it in an area free of tripping obstacles.

Treadmill: If practicing backward walking on a treadmill, start at a very slow speed such as one mile per hour and be ready to hit the emergency stop.

As you become more proficient, you can increase the speed and incline.

Indoors Walking: Find a place you can walk where there are no area rugs, steps, furniture or pets that can trip you. A hallway or indoor track could be a good choice.

Track Walking: An indoor or outdoor track is a safer choice to reduce tripping hazards. Keep to the same direction as the other track users so you do not run into them.

Outdoors Walking: It can be harder to find a safe area for walking backwards outdoors for any length of time, except on a track. It may be wise to walk with a companion who is walking forwards and can alert you to any hazards. You need to be aware of people approaching from the opposite direction, cracks and ridges in sidewalks, curbs, roots, debris, puddles, etc.

Adding Intensity to Your Workout

Other ways to add a higher intensity interval to your walking workout include stairs, hills, doing step-ups, and bursts of running or walking at your top speed.


Hooper TL, Dunn DM, Props JE, Bruce BA, Sawyer SF, Daniel JA. "The effects of graded forward and backward walking on heart rate and oxygen consumption." J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2004 Feb;34(2):65-71.

Bates BT, Dufek JS. "Backward Running: Benefits" Accessed 5/30/2012.

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